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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Waimea’s lava rock
wave breaks

IN high school way back in the 1960-somethings we often went to the North Shore and necessarily drove past that little stretch of road at Waimea Bay where the cliff rocks hung like a lava guillotine above Kamehameha Highway.

It was no place to dawdle. We equated driving through that area with shooting the tube of a wave. Even 30 years ago it didn't take a geologist to know that one day this rock wave overlooking the best-known big-wave surf spot in the world was going to break. Woe be it to anyone unlucky enough to find himself under that curl.

On Monday, the rock wave finally broke, sending tons of volcanic rubble onto the highway. The good news is the rock slide happened late at night and only slightly damaged two cars. You don't want to think of what might have happened if the slide had occurred during one of those North Shore big surf weekends when Kamehameha Highway is bumper-to-bumper from Sunset Beach to Haleiwa. An image of bowling pins comes to mind.

The highway near the famous Waimea Bay church steeple was closed after the rock slide, which, in Department of Transportation terms, is like severing a spine, leaving the North Shore paralyzed.

One truck driver attempting to deliver bread to the Turtle Bay Hilton was told he would have to backtrack to Aiea, take the H-3 to Kaneohe and then take the long and winding back road through Kahuku to the North Shore. That, my friends, is called an intense bummer.

THE driver was fairly aching to risk the short dash across the danger zone in order to save himself an additional four hours of driving, but authorities would not relent. It's one thing for a bunch of rocks to come down unexpectedly and almost hurt someone and another thing to have advance warning that they could come down again. The second thing is called "legal liability."

The bread guy was a real pro. Like a loaf of bread, he rose to the occasion and went on his way. Others less motivated, like me, would have said to the Turtle Bay tourists, "Let them eat cake, because the bread thing just ain't happenin' today."

Yesterday, people heading toward Sunset had to park at Waimea Bay Park and then trudge along the beach past the roadblock and continue on foot if friends were not there to give them a ride. It was the same problem for those heading toward Haleiwa. A tourist dragging a suitcase across a vast expanse of sand looked like something out of Lawrence of Arabia.

There's no telling how long the highway will be cut off. The trouble, according to state geologist Glenn Bauer, is one particular nasty-looking boulder insolently hanging on to the cliff face. Authorities can't risk a repeat of the fatal rock slide last year at Sacred Falls. But unlike Sacred Falls, which has been closed indefinitely, something has to be done to allow North Shore residents to commute past Waimea.

These kinds of incidents remind us that while we are living in the age of high technology, we still can't control everything. A single hostage-taking gunman in Nanakuli recently isolated the entire Leeward Coast when police shut down the highway there. A whim of nature cuts the North Shore in two. A shower of boulders snuffs out lives at one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in the state.

The lesson here is to realize it's still a dangerous world. Pay attention. Be careful. And eat your bread.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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